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Microsoft Business Applications Gets Upgraded Data Ingestion, Analytics And AI Capabilities In Spring Release

The latest update of the cloud-based customer engagement suite adds apps for smaller organizations and infuses sophisticated analytics, data models and machine learning capabilities into a wide range of extensible business solutions.

Spring has ushered in the latest release of Microsoft Business Applications, with new cloud-based solutions geared to sales and marketing professionals, upgraded models for introducing data into customized business solutions, and artificial intelligence infused throughout the suite.

The update rolled out Wednesday looks to enable customers relying on Microsoft's cloud-based business tools to glean greater insights from larger quantities of data coming from more diverse sources, Alysa Taylor, Microsoft's general manager for business applications, told CRN.

One highlight of the latest release is Dynamics 365 for Marketing, a marketing automation application for midsize users. While Adobe Experience Cloud and Creative Cloud, delivered in partnership with Microsoft, remain the anchor for large B2B customers, the new app serves smaller companies looking to connect a marketing environment directly into their sales pipeline.

[Related: Microsoft Introduces New Bug Bounties To Discover More Side Channel Vulnerabilities]

Another new app, Dynamics 365 for Sales Professional, is similar to the current offering, but limits capabilities for smaller organizations or singular departments that don’t need the full enterprise offering.

"It's designed to continue the mission we have of offering modular applications for organizations of all sizes," Taylor said.

Microsoft is also introducing a new line of applications called Power BI Insights, delivering out-of-the-box analytics with common data models to targeted departments, starting with sales and service. The solution applies intelligence to evaluating data from a range of Microsoft and third-party solutions that can be customized in Power BI and enhanced with Azure data services.

Power BI for Service Insights and Power BI for Sales Insights will be available in public preview with the Spring release. Those solutions embedded into Dynamics 365 facilitate analytic assessments of relationships generated from data culled from a variety of sources.

To make the business suite more extensible, Microsoft is upgrading its development platform for analytic solutions.

Common Data Service for Apps, a component of the PowerApps development platform, is incorporating new capabilities for modeling data in custom applications. And Common Data Service for Analytics introduces a standardized model to pull in data across many Microsoft and third-party sources into Power BI's data visualization tools.

Finally, Microsoft is introducing Dynamics 365 Business Central, a cloud version of the NAV Platform that many midsize organizations use for ERP functionality. The product, which offers lightweight capabilities and an accounting platform, will be sold exclusively through partners, with dozens already involved in a preview program.

"We have a number of partners working to take that offering and be able to customize it for specific customer needs," Taylor said. "This can take data from a variety of sources and surface it through Power BI or the Dynamics suite."

The full portfolio of business products have collectively been upgraded with artificial intelligence, Taylor said, "harnessing the power of the Azure platform and machine learning capabilities directly through Dynamics 365."

Microsoft is working to foster an ecosystem of partners that can build on top of or extend the analytics capabilities of the suite.

Tim Peterson is president of Advantage Analytics, a subsidiary of CUNA Mutual Group based in Madison, Wis., that is preparing to leverage the new features of Microsoft's business app portfolio to deliver data services to credit unions.

The credit union industry is still dominated by on-premises solutions from a fragmented and fractured ecosystem. With Microsoft's business portfolio and core data services, Advantage Analytics is integrating key systems for its customers and building an industry-standard services layer on top of Azure and Dynamics.

"Dynamics gives us a strategic front-end as a data and analytics platform," Peterson said. "The universal nature of the various tools and offerings Microsoft has introduced, it future proofs us a little."

The industry CUNA serves is showing interest in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence to solve some of the scaling challenges it faces, Peterson said.

"We have to get creative in how we compete in this new world with other financial institutions and other fintechs," he said.

Upgrades to the suite bolster Advantage Analytics's efforts to build a series of predictive models culling external data sources and injecting the insights they generate into Microsoft's customer engagement solutions.

The standardized models for building a services layer offered through Common Data Services "helps streamline and make more seamless the integration of Insights into their tools and into the workflow of the credit union," he said.

"If you think about data and analytics, it's one thing to have an insight, but if you don’t insert it into the workflow of the institution, if you can't tap into that workflow, then it's really not sustainable," Peterson told CRN. "So our key differentiation is focused on execution activation of the insights."

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